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Watford 2 Bristol City 3 (22/08/2017) 23/08/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- You have to ask yourself, at what point does an odd pattern stop being an odd pattern and start becoming accepted as “the new normal”, to adopt a horrible phrase.  When does it stop being surprising?  I suppose it depends on the circumstances…  Britain’s naval supremacy was unchallenged until the advent of the submarine, which changed the game entirely but at least there was an event.  Something to point at and say “this has changed because of that”.  Difficult to accept, difficult to reconcile to, but nonetheless cause and effect.  Easy to understand.

At what point does our recent inability to compete in the League Cup stop being worthy of comment?  For avoidance of doubt, and whilst you’ve no doubt been made painfully familiar with these stats since 10pm or so last night, that’s nine seasons in eleven that we’ve gone out to lower league opposition (for the record, City, Gillingham, Preston, Doncaster, Bradford, Bristol Rovers, Notts County, Leeds and Southend). Only once, Brendan Rodgers’ side’s run to the Quarter Finals before defeat to Spurs nine years ago, have we put together a “run”, and that felt as much of an aberration then as it does now.

2- Nontheless…  at kick-off there was a positive vibe.  There’s no denying it.  By half-time my brother, with a masochistic gleam in his eye perhaps prompted by the fact that he really doesn’t get here very often and resents this being one of the rare occasions, was proclaiming that he would henceforth only turn up for the League Cup second round.  But at kick off, we were buoyant.  We’d put one over on Bournemouth, and looked exciting and positive and vibrant in the two League games so far.

Further, squint at that Watford side and – despite the whole “we only made six changes to their nine” thing – if one puts the most ambitious spin on how the rest of our transfer window will go that’s not too far from a second string eleven.  Of the “first choice” players in the eleven Gomes, Holebas and Amrabat are all at risk of being ousted if the players we’re linked to are any guide, Deeney and Prödl might already be second choice (I maintain that Kaboul/Britos is our likeliest pair in a four) and whilst Richarlison is wonderful  you do fancy that Pereyra/Cleverley/Carillo might be the first choice three for the moment should the latter come off.  So… that’s a reserve side, and quite a fine one.

3- It wasn’t a fine performance tho.  You know that, you don’t need me to tell you that.  A couple of qualifiers, though.  Firstly, for all that this was a “lower division side” it was in some ways the most exacting test so far of our new system, our new zip.  Bristol City are “a lower division side” in that they’re lower than us but they’re a decent enough Championship team, no Cheltenham or Cambridge this (from other nightmares of League Cup past).  Yes, they made changes too and yes, we should still have expected to beat them on our own patch but nonetheless… no mugs.  More to the point there’s a world of difference between executing a zippy passing game against a Liverpool or a Bournemouth that are going to offer you space to do so, and against a side putting banks behind the ball, and with a monstrous centre-half in the coveted Aden Flint (one of the many “team changes”) who seemed to have a magnet on his head.  Not that we shouldn’t have done better, but let’s not pretend that this was easy for a side with limited competitive action between them thus far.

As it was, the first half offered warnings of what was to come.  We dominated possession, but didn’t get terribly far with it.  Aidy Mariappa crashed a joyful shot well wide early on, very much in the spirit of  “we’re going to enjoy this”.  And then… and then…  faced with a solid and disciplined barrier, faced with a lack of sharpness, it all became too deliberate, too cautious, too slow.  Richarlison stood up well to being given a couple of understandable “trick your way out of this, son” kicks up the backside and was our likeliest weapon throughout but was often double marked and unable to turn his ability into a reliable supply of crosses.  Meanwhile whilst City barely threatened either they did expose our defence more than once, Kabasele too easily pulled out of position, Prödl too easily turned, Holebas expensively booked for a rather sulky lunge.  Had Diedhiou reacted more sharply to being given a glimpse of a run at goal we might have been made to pay earlier.

4- As it was we were level at half time.  Silva has criticised his team for lack of professionalism, lack of taking City seriously, expecting to win being the unspoken addendum.  I think the crowd were guilty of that too…  there was no fretting at the interval, a rueful nod to the reliably unsatisfying stage of this competition but no panic. It was going to happen.  As Isaac Success prepared to make an entrance my brother and I pondered whether the unproductive Amrabat or the joyful but vulnerable Richarlison would be withdrawn…. the former, as it turned out.  “Tricks and Chaos” we exclaimed, and daughter 2 was in no confusion as to which was which, screaming “Chaos” gleefully at Success as he made his first slaloming run.  (As an aside, both daughters making their evening debuts, both of their enjoyment continuing to be unrelated to events on the pitch – daughter 2 spilling her fish and chips more of an issue than the football).

And it would be wrong to paint this as a thoroughly miserable evening because it wasn’t.  Our opening goal was a fine, fine thing… Hughes and Success combining to send Capoue through.  No failing on City’s part, just an excellent piece of lock-picking.  And again… if the team relaxed then so did we.  I certainly thought “job done” at that stage, since City hadn’t threatened much.  And so whilst a lot of what we saw was inadequate we nearly got away with it.  The decisive moment was former Luton teenager Freddy Hinds picking up the ball in the centre circle and galloping off with it.  At that stage, Ben Watson might have kicked him over, he didn’t.  Perhaps that’s a good thing, we can comfort ourselves with his integrity in considering the cost of Holebas executing two similar fouls.  Nonetheless… off Hinds scampered before placing a fine shot low to Gomes’ right which, nonetheless, you rather feel he should have done better with.

5 – And then it all ran away from us.  True, we made a few more chances – as above, not an evening without any merit.  The best came when Richarlison struck an evil cross-field ball with the outside of his right foot to find Success galloping in from the left.  Success sent the ball to the far post where the Brazilian somehow teleported himself to crash a header, neck muscles stretched, against the foot of the post.  A thing of beauty, so nearly magnificent.

But City had the bit between their teeth.  A nothing to lose game for them in which it was clear that their set-up and personnel combated our limitations very effectively.  Two more goals on the break, the second of which prompted a mass exodus.  This was the highlight of daughter 1’s account later, largely because we stayed and we got to see Adrian Mariappa’s goal.  Cold comfort for most but, as above, at least the girls enjoyed the evening which got significantly worse on the toss of another coin;  Holebas must have had visions of pulling us level with a fine volley at 2-1 down but air-kicked, and within seconds was slouching off having hacked down the escaping red shirt in frustration.

6- So what do we learn?  Firstly that it’s not going to be a cakewalk, and much as we knew that already it’s maybe good that the bubble was burst in the League Cup rather than the Premier League given that we’re always rubbish in it anyway.  Two, that whilst Aidy Mariappa is a decent centre-back the days when we could pretend he was a right back are probably behind us.  Three…. well.  Troy.  What have we learned?  Heavy and immobile he is certainly short of fitness and so 90 plus mins here was a Good Thing.  But you wonder whether he has the mobility to operate effectively in that central role.  Best judged when fit, perhaps.  Beyond that… harsh to judge individuals based on this, the team didn’t work and you wouldn’t rule many of these out of doing a job in a first team that already looks much more proficient under Silva than this lot.  But then, you wouldn’t suggest that anyone really made a case either.

And so to Saturday, when Brighton come calling with a new winger and a freshly fit old chum in Anthony Knockaert, whilst we have one available full back.  Another test.  Yooorns….

Gomes 2, Mariappa 2, Holebas 2, Prödl 2, Kabasele 2, Watson 3, Capoue 2, Amrabat 2, Hughes 3, *Richarlison 3*, Deeney 2

Subs: Success (for Amrabat, 45) 3, Gray (for Hughes, 70) 3, Cleverley (for Capoue, 79) 0, Britos, Chalobah, Cathcart, Pantilimon


1. Roger Smith - 23/08/2017

After 10 minutes, as I left the 3CR commentary to go to a meeting, Jon Marks said that Watford were playing with the opposition. Oh dear, I thought. Silva blames the attitude of the team and its failure to play to the game plan. So, apart from any shortcomings in performance, doesn’t that reflect badly on Deeney in his captain’s role?

2. Adam Segal - 23/08/2017

Matt, another fine review.

I’m a little concerned about Saturday. Brighton are an injured animal, desperate to get their first points of the season. We on the other hand just suffered a flesh wound, not a mortal one but none the less it hurts. There will be some players restored on Saturday, notably Doucore and Challobah (and Cleverly should also start) so my hope is we carry on from last weekend. However, our shortcomings at the full back position without Holebas and a less defensive minded Kiko may make us vulnerable. We need cover and I pray it comes before the transfer window shuts. Amrobat needs to go now, not sure if Carillo is coming in due to work permit issues but I’d rather play Success on the Left and Richarlison on the right this weekend to give us our best chance. Troy is way off the pace and I can’t see him starting either (and maybe he will go). All in all some concerns but this is Watford and it wouldn’t be the same without them.

3. Harefield Hornet - 23/08/2017

If City had played an unchanged first team it could be argued they’ve played more competitive games already than us this season and were therefore quicker/sharper than us? But they didn’t – so I’m wondering why the supposed lack of game time to the players they threw on didn’t make half as much difference to theirs as it appeared to do to ours? As you’ve mentioned above, Silva nailed it post match – it was down to mentality. Hopefully not to be repeated in the league.

4. SteveG - 23/08/2017

A report which gave a more generous interpretation of Watford’s performance than I felt after the final whistle. Agree absolutely with your comments about Mariappa – I’m glad we still have him on board, but he did look horribly exposed at right back.

What else did we learn? Amrabat is a shadow of the player of a year ago – in principle this looked a good call to give him some more game time, but he really struggled. Having said that, credit due to the City defence here as Richarlison looked much less of a threat after half time when he moved across to the right. Ben Watson may not be a matchwinner, but he covers a lot of ground and so often seems to be the man available to pick up a pass and move the ball on – he’s not likely to make the first team, but a very good reliable member of the squad – good to see him in action again.

There’s a sort of bizarre masochism about this ritual in August. Each year there’s the thought that this year it’s going to be different, that the fringe players will really try to make the case for inclusion and that we’ll progress beyond round 2, because this is a competition that we could really do well in – and then we go and cock it up again.

BHappy – only three days to Saturday!

5. PEDantic - 24/08/2017

When it comes to the history of our performances in this cup, I can’t help but feel that, when the players run out in a more than half empty stadium, they must unconsciously feel ‘if nobody else cares why should we?’

Be that as it may, once we hadn’t scored after a dominant first 15 minutes, it seemed that the players lapsed into the Flores/Mazzari mindset of keeping the ball for the sake of it without making any chances. Happily, Silva was angry with that attitude, so hopefully we will continue to see the more aggressive approach of the first two league games.

Finally a word on Mr. Grumpy. As the match went on you could see Holebas getting increasingly annoyed that we weren’t doing better, with eventually inevitable consequences. I know he’s a liability but, secretly, I really appreciate his attitude.

6. Lesley-Anne - 24/08/2017

Very valid point by PEDantic about the crowd and perhaps surprising this season that more people did not turn out. Yes we did start the game well and should have made it count earlier. When the goal finally came (and agree with Matt it was a very fine goal) we should have pushed on and won the game comfortably. Bristol City weren’t really in the game at that point. Once they got the equaliser they were a changed team and for all the free kicks and corners we had we could not get the ball in the net. Ironic that we did when it was far too late.

The general consensus around us in added time was that Mariappa and Watson were the poorest players when admittedly nobody shone. I would personally have swapped the ratings given to Watson and Capoue, Matt. Whatever his failings Capoue certainly knows how to find the net. Two goals (and almost a third) in barely 90 minutes of football this season is not to be sniffed at and a record our strikers would covet!

Matt Rowson - 24/08/2017

Agree about the goal, and that’s valuable to the team. Just thought that Capoue’s passing was very off beam and that our play suffered as a result.

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